Retailers eager to lodge antitrust complaints against Amazon, Google

A leading U.S. retail group, whose members include Walmart, is eager to aid antitrust enforcers that are poised to investigate whether Amazon and Alphabet's Google are harming competition.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association, which also represents Target and Best Buy among others, said it's prepared to present their concerns to the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission, which have carved up antitrust oversight of Silicon Valley's biggest companies.

"It's pretty clear to us that the FTC and different relevant regulators should be taking a much closer look at these platform companies," said Nicholas Ahrens, vice president of innovation for RILA, in an interview. "We are here to help."

RILA joins a slew of companies, including Oracle, Yelp, Tripadvisor and News Corp., that have raised concerns about competitive harm from dominant technology platforms. The retailers' group has already laid out its views on competition issues to the House Judiciary's antitrust subcommittee, which is investigating the technology industry, Ahrens said.

The group wrote a letter to the FTC dated Sunday, arguing that the tech platforms create an "information bottleneck" that has the power to skew markets and circumvent the traditional power of price competition.

RILA also raised concerns about how tech companies may compromise the brands of retailers, favor their own products over sellers on their platforms, accumulate data about competitors and allow for the proliferation of counterfeit goods.

It should be "quite concerning to the commission that Amazon and Google control the majority of all internet product search, and can very easily affect whether and how price and product information actually reaches consumers," the trade group said in a letter responding to a series of hearings the agency held on competition policy.

Representatives for Amazon and Google didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

The FTC has claimed oversight of probes of Facebook Inc. and Amazon, while the Justice Department is set to scrutinize Google and Apple Inc., Bloomberg has reported. Separately, the House Judiciary's antitrust subcommittee kicked off a broad antitrust investigation into the technology industry last month with a hearing on how Google and Facebook have affected the news industry.

RILA said it agrees with sentiments echoed by Makan Delrahim, the head of the Justice Department's antitrust division, and more than 40 attorneys general, that prices shouldn't be the sole measure of harm.

It's "the combination of information control and market power that should worry antitrust regulators the most," the letter said. "That unhealthy combination exists at the level of the internet's pipelines, at the level of product search, in webhosting, on social media platforms and elsewhere."

The group also pointed to Amazon's perceived dominance of e-commerce, where it has nearly 50% of U.S. online sales. Since it's both a retailer and a marketplace for third-party sellers, Amazon has drawn scrutiny over whether it uses its clout and huge amount of sales data to give itself a leg up over smaller vendors, an issue the EU is already investigating and which prompted calls by 2020 presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren to break up the online retailer and other tech platforms.

Amazon claims it actually only holds a small percentage of the total retail market in the U.S. and faces formidable competition from the likes of Walmart.

"RILA does not file this comment to complain about competition from Facebook, Google, Amazon, Visa, or any other technology or payments platform," the group said. "Indeed, retail leaders comment to ask for more competition, not less. But all competition must be on a fair and level playing field."

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